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In terms of commercials whose lifespan was determined by their efficiency, there's always the possibly anomalous stories about Pepsi's slogan "come alive with Pepsi" being rendered into Japanese as "Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the grave", and Coca-Cola's similar Mandarin reading as "bite the wax tadpole". One might also consider the Chevrolet Nova's famed Latin American campaign significant.

However, for understandably short lifespans, these campaigns surely take the biscuit:

  • The washing machine manufacturer who chose to demonstrate how quiet its latest model was by depicting it in action while a family of five slept in a giant bed in a same room. The advert was quickly pulled after it was found consumers associated the machine with living in slum conditions.

  • The luggage manufacturer (possibly Samsonite although i cannot confirm this] who decided to show the strength of its latest range of suitcases by showing them intact after falling from a plane. Sadly, the target market stayed away from the cases because it subconsciously linked them with air crashes.

  • The soup manufacturer who decided, in a bizarre cross-marketing opportunity, to give away free pairs of stockings with its soup. Once again, customers declined the offer, owing to their association of the soup with stinking feet.

  • Not an ad campaign as such, but another neat example of marketing gone way over the top: in the 1950s, two rival fridge manufacturers decided to ensnare the kids and thus persuade their parents to go for their particular refrigerator. A common practice, one might think. But what was uncommon was that one company eventually ended up giving away a 60 piece toy circus, a magic ray gun and a space helmet with each purchase, while the other threw a complete space kit with a helmet, a disintegrator, space telephones and a flying saucer into the bargain.

The mind, essentially, boggles.

FYI: mine was the fridge with the disintegrator. What? I mean, come on: a toy circus over that? Puh-lease.
I remember a Pepsi ad I saw once and once only. It was after the little girl lip-synching the "Joy of Cola" song had been running a while. Apparently, they wanted to have a new ad, but they didn't have time to get the little girl in to shoot another commercial, so it was just the "Joy of Cola" song running with some general text graphics of the words of the song splashing here and there over the screen.

The problem was when they got to the chorus and were singing "Bah bah bah bah bah, the Joy of Cola", right on the screen, in big red letters were "Bah bah bah bah bah"--the clear and immediate implication was: "Hey, drink Pepsi, you SHEEP!"

Like I said, I only saw it once. I'm amazed I saw it that many times...
In 1984, Apple Computer, in a risky gambit to generate a buzz about its new Macintosh, spent its entire advertising budget (for both production and placement costs) on one artsy (and now considered historic) commercial.

Drawing from the current hype surrounding the arrival for the year 1984 (especially as current conditions related to those in George Orwell's famous novel "1984," which examined the concepts of authority and freedom), the commercial (directed, incidentally, by Ridley Scott) depicted a dark and dismal world, where everyone marched in lockstep and received their knowledge from one authoritarian source via a viewscreen. Into this world comes an athletic runner: female, carrying a sledgehammer, and apparently not wearing a sports bra. She launches her tool toward the viewscreen in an act of open rebellion, destroying it and opening up new possibilities for its once-captive viewers. Fade out over the multicolored Apple logo.

The commercial was aired only once, during the Super Bowl, for maximum effect (from this one ad, by the way, comes the now-familiar stream of new and well-hyped advertisements we see with each new Super Bowl). Because it was not only aired once, but meant to air only once (well, I guess they had no money left), I believe this makes it a prime candidate for the shortest-lived ad campaign.

Of course, one would argue, the stream of similar one-shot commercials pitched by Internet companies during the 2000 Super Bowl should tie for this honor. But I feel the Apple spot, given its lasting effect (and given that the company is still around and hawking Macs), is in a class by itself. Note also that there are a host of commercials that have only had one airing because either they incurred the wrath of the viewers or were removed as the result of cease and desist orders for one legal reason or another. Pizza Hut, for example, had a 1998 commercial pulled because the Mighty Mighty Bosstones claimed that a song used in the spot represented a case of copyright infringement.

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